Dallas — It’s not often that a simple program note generates excitement. Daniel Ezralow’s heartfelt written introduction to Ezralow Dance’s OPEN exudes so much inviting warmth, it seems as if he’s sitting in front of a calmly crackling living room fireplace, beckoning everyone to come closer for an evening story. Presented by TITAS/Dance Unbound at Moody Performance Hall, the company’s most recent creation transcends the boundaries of dance genres and delivers a joyful and wholly unexpected experience. Even the promo video does little to prepare audiences for what’s in store for the thrilling 75-minute production, running without intermission.
Familiar classical tunes from iconic composers such as Bach, Debussy, and Bizet (to name only a few) provide the backdrop for short vignettes that appear completely unrelated on the surface but neatly fit into a reflection of the human experience, both in their contents and in audience reactions. Ezralow also utilizes projections and moveable screens to shape the context and transitions, and surprising beginnings and endings are sprinkled throughout.
The first segment could easily make one generalize the show as a commentary on our interaction with the man-made world. The opening projection pulls up images of traffic signs, neon lights, and similar urban artifacts. Dancers in business-casual clothing move through sharp, quirky gestural phrases and body shapes, faintly reminiscent of Fosse. Later, Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” signals the freneticism of the corporate hustle with a projected cityscape in the background, and office workers with coffee shop cups make more work for the janitor while Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” plays.
As the tone shifts, it turns into a peek at social institutions and interactions. A marriage ceremony devolves in a game of hand competitions between the bride and groom (such as slaps, rock-paper-scissors, and arm wrestling) and a dancer clad in a high-waisted skirt delivers a mildly seductive solo with finger puppets.
Growing more abstract, Ezralow presents a contemplative take on the “Sugar Plum Fairy” theme with balloons. As the energy continues to slow down for the next part, dancers “plant” live trees in dirt on stage to the sounds of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (imagine what the backstage crew thought of this!) After the quick pace of the previous segments, this one captivates as much with the anticipation it creates as it does with the simple movements performed with satisfying timing dynamics.
A quiet women’s ensemble morphs into a minimalist Romeo and Juliet story, complete with Prokofiev’s recognizable “Montagues and Capulets.” One group of dancers dons scant black clothing with black paint on their faces and bodies, and the other wears equally skimpy white attire with white paint. It’s one of the more intriguing moments of the evening, as the stark line between harsh and fluid movement qualities give off a “black swan vs. white swan” essence. One dancer from each finds the other, and their distinctly dynamic, intimate duet against the fighting of the rest of the ensemble sends a clear narrative.
The next few segments are heavily saturated with homages to traditional modern dance, culminating in a thrilling fusion that begins with a backflip. Dancers in orange and black jumpsuits and black rubber boots maneuver through stepping choreography, but the music, floor patterns, and beaming expressions harken to Paul Taylor’s Esplanade.
As the concert draws to a close with a swelling bang, Strauss’ “Blue Danube Waltz” serves as the uplifting sound for changing costumes and rousing illusions with projections and dancer entrances and exits. It’s uncertain when the piece actually ends, as the classical music switches over to a reggae tune and finally, Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” for a long but entertaining series of bows and encore in which the dancers show off their individual skills and personalities.
The short but utterly delightful evening of dance is a shining example of the art form’s appeal—its ability to be enticing yet accessible to people from all walks of life.